European Union leaders reached a deal early Friday morning on migration.EU Council President Donald Tusk said in a tweet early Friday that the 28 EU “leaders have agreed” on a compromise that was at the heart of their two-day summit.
French President Emmanuel Macron said the agreement was “good news” and “European cooperation” prevailed over the talks that began Thursday evening and ended at dawn Friday.
The deal establishes reception centers for migrants and asylum seekers in EU member states that volunteer to have them. According to Reuters, they also agreed to share refugees arriving in the bloc on a voluntary basis and to share responsibility for migrants rescued at sea, a key demand of Italy.
“Italy is not alone anymore,” said its new Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.
Italy had blocked the adoption of any agreements at the European Union summit in Brussels, demanding that the bloc do more to help Rome’s migration crisis.
Conte said Italy will decide later whether it will host any reception centers.
Italy’s month-old populist government had refused to sign any joint agreements, instead holding out for action by other European countries to help deal with the migrants and refugees coming to Italy from North Africa.
“Italy doesn’t need any more verbal signs, but concrete deeds,’’ Conte said.
EU sources described the talks as “virulent,” according to the French news agency.
Summit participants are planning to set up screening facilities in North African countries to slow the stream of people crossing the Mediterranean Sea to get to the EU, often through Italy. While no countries have as yet agreed to host such screening posts, EU leaders hope to entice them with aid money.
Arrivals to the continent have dropped sharply since a 2015 crisis that drew sharp divisions among the bloc’s 28 members about how they should respond. Some countries promoted more open-door policies, while others set up barriers to prevent those who reached Europe from crossing their borders.
The EU said in 2015 there were more than 1.8 million illegal border crossings into member countries. EU President Donald Tusk wrote in a letter ahead of the summit that the number of illegal crossings has dropped by 96 percent since its peak.
Policies already enacted have helped push that number down, notably an agreement with Turkey for the Turkish government to help cut off migration routes and to accept the return of those who make the journey from Turkey to Greece. The EU also began work to tackle the root causes pushing people from their home country.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who was among the most open to accepting migrants during the height of the crisis, is under pressure at home from critics who say Germany has been too welcoming.
She told parliament Thursday before heading to Brussels that she made the right decision in an exceptional situation, but that with the current situation the EU should put in place tighter controls. Merkel said that while there is division among members, they are united in the need to reduce overall migration, stop smugglers and strengthen the EU’s external borders.